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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department today announced a favorable decision in the first lawsuit it has brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000. The U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii refused to dismiss the United States’ claim that in refusing to permit expanded religious use of land already owned by a church, Maui County discriminated on the basis of religion and violated RLUIPA.

“Congress enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in response to a detailed record of discrimination against religion, particularly in instances where equally or more intrusive non-religious uses of land were permitted or favored, while religious uses were barred,” said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This decision affirms that governments cannot discriminate against religion by segregating it from the balance of our communities. Comparable religious and non-religious land use must be treated equally, and we are pleased that the judge has allowed our suit to go forward.”

The case at issue, United States v. Maui County, arose from the Maui Planning Commission’s 2001 decision to deny a special zoning permit to the Hale o Kaula church. The church applied for the permit in order to make greater religious use of land it already owned, but that was restricted by local zoning ordinances to agricultural uses. When the Planning Commission denied the permit, the church filed a private suit challenging the denial under RLUIPA, which prohibits religious discrimination in land-use and zoning decisions. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division subsequently filed its own lawsuit, also challenging the denial of the zoning permit under such law.

Judge Samuel P. King of the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case on constitutional and statutory grounds. Following cases in the Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits of the United States Courts of Appeals, Judge King found that RLUIPA was a valid exercise of congressional power, and that the law did not violate the separation of church and state guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

This lawsuit was the first filed by the Justice Department under the statute. Since 2001, the Civil Rights Division has opened 13 investigations and numerous preliminary inquiries into allegations of religious discrimination. These have included investigations of unequal treatment on behalf of Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths. Most of these have been resolved amicably through voluntary modification of potentially discriminatory zoning regulations.

Individuals who believe that they suffered religious discrimination in land-use or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at 1-800-896-7743. Additional information on the Justice Department’s efforts to combat religious discrimination may be found at <>.